• Benfica v Chelsea, Europa League final preview

Benfica boss denies Chelsea mind games

ESPN staff
May 15, 2013 « Live County Championship coverage | Chartbeat test »
Benitez: Finals are special for everyone involved

Benfica head coach Jorge Jesus has denied his players have been attempting to undermine Chelsea after forward Pablo Aimar claimed the current Blues squad was the club's poorest for a decade.

Jesus, speaking the day before his side take on the Londoners in the Europa League final in Amsterdam, said they were not trying to play mind games ahead of the clash.

Benfica are attempting to avoid a seventh successive European final defeat when they step out at the Amsterdam ArenA. And Aimar said he was bemused that they would probably not be facing a team containing either John Terry or Frank Lampard, neither of whom are now regular Chelsea starters.

He claimed the Chelsea players were not behind interim manager Rafael Benitez, but Jesus said: "No Benfica player has undermined the quality of any Chelsea player or the Chelsea team.

"In my opinion, the strongest teams make the Europa League final. Chelsea is an excellent team, and they will finish third in the Premier League this year. They have quality.''

Jesus said he hoped Benfica could relive past glories, saying: "Benfica is a club that, throughout its history, has had an excellent performance in Europe. It created a name for itself in the 1960s and 1970s that was there alongside Real Madrid and AC Milan.

"It hasn't been the same since, but Benfica has recovered some of its prestige over the last few years - and we want to create that kind of international prestige again."

Benfica hope to be boosted by the presence of their legendary former player Eusebio, who will be a guest of honour at the final. "For Eusebio to travel here and share such a moment with us is important for the team,'' skipper Luisao said.

"He is the king, and it's very important that the players know about his importance and his legend, which is still important even today, and use it as a reference point.''

David Luiz has been Chelsea's talisman in the Europa League © PA Photos
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Form

Chelsea are undefeated since their FA Cup semi-final loss to Man City in April, reaching the Europa League final with victories both home and away against Basel.

The Blues' 2-1 win at Aston Villa on Saturday means their place in next season's Champions League is all but assured before Sunday's final game of the season against Everton, leaving Benitez's side to focus all their attentions on Benfica.

Things are less straight-forward for the Portuguese side, whose 2-1 defeat by FC Porto at the weekend - their first league defeat of the season - saw them deposed as league leaders with one game remaining.

After knocking out Newcastle in the quarter-finals, Jesus' side had to overturn a 1-0 first-leg defeat against Fenerbahce when the tie came to the Estadio da Luz.

Team news

Eden Hazard has been ruled out of the final after tweaking his hamstring at Villa Park, while John Terry, stretchered off with an ankle injury in the game, faces a late fitness test but looks set to miss out on a European final for a second successive season. Benitez is also likely to have to do without Ryan Bertrand and John Obi Mikel once more, while Demba Ba is cup-tied.

Benfica have no fresh injury problems and, beyond the suspended Maxi Pereira, have a full squad to pick from. How Jesus picks them up after all but throwing away the Liga title with three games to go will be crucial in Amsterdam.

One to watch

David Luiz: Signed from Benfica for £21m plus Nemanja Matic, he faces his former side in the final and the Brazilian has become an indispensable figure in Benitez's side, whether at the heart of the Blues' defence or moved forward to add steel to the midfield.

Nobody knows the qualities of Chelsea's opponents better than Luiz, who is still full of affection for Benfica, but he has emerged as a talisman for Chelsea in the competition. His last-ditch free kick in Basel meant Chelsea returned to Stamford Bridge with a crucial advantage, and he will be looking to make a similar game-changing contribution in the final.

Head-to-head battles

  • Pablo Aimar v Oscar

    Brazilian starlet out to outshine Argentine veteran

  • Luisao v Fernando Torres

    Spaniard takes on Benfica's talismanic defender

  • Nemanja Matic v Juan Mata

    Chelsea old boy up against the side's playmaker

Key battle

Despite Benfica only joining the competition in the knock-out stages, Oscar Cardozo is the Europa League's joint-third top scorer. The Paraguayan has six goals in his last 10 games against English opposition, not to mention 31 in 42 in all competitions this season, and is as big a threat in dead ball situations as he is in open play.

Gary Cahill and David Luiz - or perhaps Terry, should he pass that fitness test - can expect a torrid time against the 6'4" target man as Eduardo Salvio and Nicolas Gaitan whip balls in from the flanks.

Prediction and bet

Chelsea could find themselves in possession of both the Champions League and Europa League with victory in Amsterdam, albeit for 10 days. But last season's European champions face a tough task against free-flowing Benfica without the likes of Hazard and a fully-fit John Terry.

With Ba ruled out, Fernando Torres will lead the line once more, looking to link up with Frank Lampard and Juan Mata from midfield. The side is certainly capable of scoring goals, but Benfica arguably possess the greater threat in the form of Cardozo and his Brazilian strike partner Lima, who has 27 goals in all competitions.

Six of the last 13 Europa League finals have gone into extra-time, and there's every chance the action in Amsterdam could go beyond the 90 minutes. You can back a 2-2 draw after 90 minutes at 14/1 with Bet365.

Prediction: Benfica 3-2 Chelsea

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